Instructor: Jennifer Seward
I sat bored on the couch in the camper, the cold air conditioning flowing over me while my dad drove us to our destination, the Delicate Arch. As soon as he parked the vehicle, my siblings, cousins, and I rushed out the door. Stepping out of the camper and into the parking lot near the trail to Delicate Arch, the first impression hit me: hot. The bright sun blinded my eyes; I turned my back to it, looking at the bright blue sky and the contrasting red structures before us.
"Bacho, come put on sunscreen," my mom called out to us kids. Groaning, we trotted back inside. We rubbed sunscreen on our faces, tugged on our hats, and hurried back out, excited to start our journey.
"Mama, jaldi," I called in Urdu. Mom, hurry. "I want to start the hike."
My aunt was already sitting on a boulder with her daughter. The toddler climbed off and seated herself on the ground, dumping sand on her pants. The rust-colored grains soiled her tiny hands as she played, a mischievous smile lighting her face. My aunt complained at the sight, quickly dusting off her clothes.
Looking around the vast land, I could not fully take in the marvelous scenery. A wide flat trail stretched before me, with many tiny green bushes scattered all around. Broken orange and cream rocks looked like they were piled into a mountain. Far out, elevated red sandstone was spread out around us.
Finally, after what felt like forever, our group of ten family members began the hike. A sign at the entrance in bold capital letters warned: HEAT KILLS! It was filled with tips on how to beat the heat during the trek. I suddenly began to worry whether we had enough water, especially as the map said the walk could take three to four hours to complete. But, as we approached a sight along the way, I forgot about those concerns.
John Wesley Wolfe's cabin stood ahead of us, the only house in the whole park. Long ago, logs of wood had been stacked together and packed with mud, their colors blending in with the tan sandstone around it. Chicken wire blocked off the doorway, leaving space to glance inside. There, a table and chair sat, grayed with dust. It seemed that if someone were to breathe in there, the dust would puff up. We then continued on our way, crossing over a stream with a bridge that led us to the Delicate Arch's main trail.
So far, the route through the desert landscape had been wide and flat with occasional hills. Further along the path were boulders of broken sandstone, with plants sprouting out of them. I had never seen such a dry climate before, so it was a wonder to me. I was happy that my aunt and uncle had thought of taking this trip. It was a tiresome hike yet refreshing after being stuck in the house for so long due to the pandemic.
My youngest sister Noor and my cousin Usaid had rushed ahead, eager to see the arch and nothing else. My dad sent me forward to tell them to stay in sight of the adults. But that rule lasted only so long. The adults were taking their time, chatting about how Allah made such wonders. So, we decided that we would begin walking again as soon as we could make out our parents' heads behind us. It wasn't long before that rule ended, too. As we continued, we noticed that the path was lined with the pattern of hikers' soles. Usaid suggested that we play a game to see who could stay within the boundaries of the shoe imprints. It was easy for Noor and Usaid, since they had smaller feet. But I went along, as it helped us pass some time in this unending hike. We also found something exciting: a block of milky white stone, tinted with baby pink, in the middle of the path. The large block was hidden in the same deep red sandstone that surrounded us.
"It might be quartz!" I said.
"Really?" Usaid and Noor each said in excitement, their eyes widening.
"I wish we could take some," Noor said sadly. I wished that, too. We knew, however, that we had to be considerate and preserve the park for the future. But that didn't stop us from being happy about finding it.
The sweltering afternoon heat made the long hike even more challenging. The sun was beaming down, no clouds big enough to block it. I was feeling miserable, my dry face desperate for lotion. The plants didn't grow tall enough to provide shade. Worse, before us was a zig-zag path that transitioned up to a higher elevation. It looked like a giant z, stretched up like a spring. The trail was exhausting, curving as it climbed up. Listening to my sisters complaining about the heat and lack of water made it even more tiresome. Finally, we finished the path and stood waiting for our parents.
"They're here," Usaid imparted. We ran to them, asking for water. Gulping it down, I was thankful. After that, we decided to walk alongside our parents.
After a while, we met an elderly couple who had already completed the hike. They were really friendly and answered our questions.
"Do you know how much more we have left to go?" Usaid asked.
"You're only halfway there, son," the old man answered.
"What!" we exclaimed, annoyed and surprised.
"Hey, if we can do it, you can do it," the man said.
"Was it worth it?" my mom asked.
"Oh, definitely!" the man said and showed us some of their pictures. But, seeing their pictures, I wasn't encouraged. The arch doesn't look that amazing, I thought. Just a big arc, with the whole landscape one color, rusty orange.
"It could have helped if the park had given some encouragement, though!" the lady said kiddingly. "Like, 'Yay! You're halfway there! Or 'Good job, you made it this far.'" We all started laughing.
"Good luck," the man said in parting.
"Thank you," we all said. It felt good to know how much more we had left of the hike, and it was fun to talk to those elders.
The following section was much more challenging and time-consuming than the others. A giant slab of sandstone loomed before us, inclined upward, almost like a mountain. The steep slope made it intimidating. The sandstone was also smooth, giving little grip for our shoes. We stepped cautiously to avoid slipping and getting hurt. Once again, my sisters, cousin, and I ventured ahead. After a while, I stopped to look back at my little brother, just 3 years old, making his way up the steep rocky hill. I felt proud of him for walking all this way. I then paused to gaze at a beautiful view with vast mountains, flying crows, and a shining sun, breathtaking.
As we went further up, the sandstone trail expanded, with markers made of stacked rocks — cairns — to guide the way. A hill rose before us, followed by a steep slope to climb down. There, we had to be careful not to topple over. Below was a shallow pool of sand, surrounded by stone walls. The sand wasn't like creamy, clean beach sand, but orange mixed with twigs. The journey felt neverending. My cousin kept stopping, declaring, "It's too hard. I'm going to wait for my mom to come." But I managed to convince him to keep going. The sand slipped into our shoes while we walked. It was irritating, so I periodically stopped to empty them. My face felt gritty, sand coating it. I wanted water to wash my face. But when I asked my sister for the bottle, she replied, "We don't have any more."
"Huh," I sigh, now desperate to finish the hike.
The sandy trail transitioned back to just sandstone — much better. Usaid had given up on pushing ahead of our parents, and so did my sisters and I. We decided to rest and wait. Sitting down, I felt of little significance walking among the giant sandstone structures. As the large formations towered above me, I had thoughts of fear of what would happen if they collapsed.
Finally, we reached the last section after regrouping with our parents and siblings. The narrow trail had a steep dropoff to the left, deep enough to cause injuries if we fell. My mom told us to stay close to the wall that hugged the trail. It was a two-way passage to the arch and back so, when other hikers approached there was so little space; I was scared. The wall's texture was rough, looking as if pieces had been chiseled off.
We rounded the last turn and, at long last, got our first glimpse of the arch, still a mile away. The sun's rays shone on the delicate rust-colored arc, making it stand out from all the canyons that formed a bowl around it. The arch looked like it had been carved by a sculptor. A fragile beauty. Even from far away, it still made me feel tiny in comparison. I couldn't believe my eyes. That very moment I realized that all the walking and hiking in the scorching heat was all worth it.
"Subhanallah," I said. Praising Allah for this wonder. A breathtaking sight. The sunset painted the sky an orange-white, the gleaming red sun setting a backdrop for the arch. Seeing it really was worth all its trouble, and doing it with my family made it even more so.
"Subhanallah," my dad said, and my brother repeated the words in his cute voice. Then my brother and cousins climbed onto a flat rock, lay down, and put their hands behind their heads for a hard-earned break. I felt proud of my brother; he had walked this entire hike.
Click, click. I heard the camera as my dad and uncle snapped pictures. Like other hikers, we went under the arch to take pictures, too. Walking beneath it, I felt so minute, yet the accomplishment was enormous. This trip was challenging but so memorable,from the moment I stepped out of the camper, to scaling the exhausting slab of sandstone, and to gazing at the enormous Delicate Arch. It was one that made me appreciate the reward of hard work, the beauty of the world, and most importantly, the value of spending time with my family.